This Month In Conservation: The US Freaks Out and Does Some Stuff (Not All Of It Good)

by Thomas Hochman

For those of us unfortunate enough to be concerned with abstract concepts like “snow” and “our grandchildren knowing what a tree is”, the past few years have been, at best, trying.

With the US pulling out of the Paris Agreement, gutting its national monuments, and normalizing “hey look it’s snowing, take that Bill Nye” as an acceptable political stance on global climate change, our country’s social, political, and economic developments have, by and large, done little to inspire hope among environmentalists.

The last few weeks have served as a perfect microcosm for the game of tug-of-war taking place between the president, Congress, Democrats, and Republicans over the country’s environmental policy and rhetoric, with two significant moments –– one great, one supremely stupid –– taking center stage. They are discussed here.

The Good:

On February 12, Congress managed to pass the largest conservation legislation of the decade.

The measure passed 92-8, marking an unprecedented moment of bipartisan dealmaking in Congress.

Dubbed “The Natural Resources Management Act”, the package classifies 1.3 million acres as wilderness, prohibiting roads and motorized vehicles in the newly conserved areas. It permanently bars mining in more than 370,000 acres of land around two national parks, including Yellowstone, and, perhaps most importantly, authorizes a program to spend offshore-drilling revenue on conservation efforts.

The program, known as the Land and Water Conservation Fund, fell apart last year during the partial government shutdown, but Congress now plans to reauthorize the fund in perpetuity. In general, Liberals like that the money allows for agencies to set aside conservation land, while conservatives like that the spending doesn’t land on the shoulders of regular taxpayers.

Unfortunately, the program is far from perfect, as less than half of the $40 billion amassed by the LWCF over the last 50 years has actually been spent on conservation efforts.

Nevertheless, the legislation is an environmental success, and also includes numerous state-based provisions like land allotments to Vietnam veterans, funding for the upkeep of local baseball diamonds and basketball courts, and more.

The Bad:

This past weekend, The White House announced its plans to set up a panel to counter the climate change consensus.

Now here are some facts:

  1. For years, government researchers have identified climate change as a serious threat to the country, under both Republican and Democratic administrations.
  2. A 2003 study commissioned by the Pentagon concluded that an abrupt change in climate “should be elevated beyond a scientific debate to a U.S. national security concern.”
  3. In the last year alone, a military-funded study posited that sea level rise could make over a thousand islands in the Pacific Ocean –– including one where a missile defense site is located –– uninhabitable by 2050, and a national intelligence director delivered a global threat assessment that climate-related hazards threaten infrastructure, health, and water and food security.

Meanwhile, as anyone who has ever completed an OES science fair project knows, carrying out research and testing with a preferred outcome in mind is the cardinal sin of objective scientific experimentation. But the White House hopes to do exactly that with its plan to reassess the government’s analysis of climate science and counter conclusions that the continued burning of fossil fuel is harming the planet.

It’s hard to estimate the damage that this might do, but in a time where it is more important than ever to unify around the scientific fact of global climate warming, Trump’s public challenging of a fundamental reality is a painfully large step backwards.

The Takeaway:

The rollercoaster continues. No doubt there will be more to discuss in the coming months.

Thanks for reading.